Critics Bash Social Security Windfall Elimination Policies

Senior couple and social security card

Real-World Effects

Among the witnesses to speak at the hearing was Patrick Yoes, a retired Louisiana law enforcement officer and national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. He was joined by a trio of retired Louisiana public servants — a police officer, a firefighter and an educator —  who testified about the negative affect the provisions have had on their lives.

“While I welcome the opportunity to be here with you today to talk about how the WEP and GPO hurt our nation’s retired law enforcement officers, I am also here to express the deep frustration of my members,” Yoes said. “Simply put, law enforcement officers who served in an agency outside the Social Security system may lose up to 60% of the Social Security benefit to which they are entitled by virtue of secondary or post-retirement employment which requires them to pay into the Social Security system.”

As Yoes stressed, this 60% “is a lot of money, especially when you consider that the officer and his or her family were likely counting on that benefit when they planned for retirement.”

According to Yoes and the other speakers, after 20 or 25 years on the job, many law enforcement officers who retire begin second careers and work in jobs that do pay into the Social Security system. Even more officers are likely to “moonlight” during their careers, Yoes said. That is, they hold second or even third jobs in order to augment their law enforcement income.

“This creates an unjust situation that too many of our members find themselves in,” Yoes said. “They are entitled to a state or local retirement benefit because they worked 20 or more years keeping their streets and neighborhoods safe, but they also worked at a job or jobs in which they paid into Social Security, entitling them to that benefit as well.”

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However, because of the windfall elimination provision, if workers’ second careers resulted in less than 20 years of substantial earnings, upon reaching the age they are eligible to collect Social Security, they will discover that they lose a substantial portion of the benefit for which they were taxed.

“Actuarially speaking, I doubt many officers will live long enough to break even and collect the money they paid into the system, let alone receive any ‘windfall,’” Yoes said. “These men and women earned their state or local retirement benefit as public employees and they paid Social Security taxes while employed in the private sector. How is this a windfall?”

As Yoes explained, the government pension offset affects fewer people, but its ramifications can sometimes be more profound. The result is that many Americans find themselves blindsided by unanticipated benefit reductions at a vulnerable moment.

Hope for a Fix

Yoes and the other speakers repeatedly called on Congress to address these issues, noting that one piece of relevant legislation, the Social Security Fairness Act, already has more than 300 bipartisan co-sponsors and enjoys the support of key stakeholder groups like the Fraternal Order of Police.

“The manifest unfairness of the WEP and GPO provisions are well-documented, but it has been 15 years since Congress has examined this issue despite the fact that the Social Security Fairness Act has gotten more than 300 cosponsors in this and the previous Congress,” Yoes said. “In fact, this bill — which is a top legislative priority for the FOP — has routinely gotten support from a majority of House members going back for years no matter which party was in control.”

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As Yoes recalled, between 2000 and 2008, the House and Senate held a combined seven hearings on the two provisions, but there has been no action or consideration of the bill since that time apart from a committee markup last year to prevent the legislation from moving off the consensus calendar under the rules of the House.

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